Boyhood (2014) (R)

There is so much to say about "Boyhood" and not enough space to say it. Rather than drone endlessly about the tortures and golden virtues of working with the same cast over twelve years, I think it would do the film more justice to talk about it as it is. Yes, we've all heard about how Richard Linklater waited and waited and waited, filming bits and pieces of his film over a decade; but that doesn't mean it will be good. Luckily for Linklater, he picked a topic that's hard to do that he has proven himself worthy of before: life.
Linklater's dialogue is almost immediately recognizable because it sounds like how you speak. He has a knack for picking up the speech of teenagers and grandparents—he knows how people think and then he translates that to his story.
With "Boyhood" we follow a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from first grade to college. A journey such as this I would expect would mean much more to parents than to those who haven't had any kids. At the theater I was at, there were mothers and fathers laughing and quietly commenting on little things that I wouldn't have picked up on...this isn't to say that "Boyhood" gives all of its audience some personal moment, because it does and quite often.
Still as much as the movie belongs to Mason, it belongs to his mother, played by Patricia Arquette as she has to raise her two kids. Mason's sister Samantha (Lorelei Linkater) is his older antithesis. She keeps Mason in check, taunts him mercilessly, gets more caught up with the material, and eventually seems to settle down into the very nonchalant adult we see her as when we exit the picture.
As a film, there is no climax to "Boyhood" because there is no strife and adversity, at least in the classical way of thinking about it. It's not a Hollywood movie made for popular audiences; but you should go see it anyway. Its plot is limited to vignettes through which we view the physical and emotional changes in Mason; but it burns together in a wonderful mosaic of time.
The film is clever for calling itself "Boyhood" because it would imply that it's all about Mason. Indeed his mom does share a lot of the screen time; but so does everyone else. We see friends, families, marriages, divorces, baptisms, all flows together into one movie.
The question is: what are we left with?
I think it would be fruitless to talk about the film in a plot context—what good would that do? We've all lived aspects of Mason's life and his mother's life and his sister's life. We share with each of their joys and each of their sorrows...this is why Linklater succeeds so greatly, because he is the first filmmaker to make a film that both does and does not define life. On one hand we have all the characters and dialogue screaming at us that life is important with its heartbreaks and its let downs and on the other hand it screams that we cannot know why this is. That's what we are left with: a shrug of the shoulders and a hopeful cross of the fingers.
Much of the movie is not just about the landmark moments that stick in your memory when you look back on your childhood, it's also about romance and the quest for love. Mason's mother and his father (played by Linklater favorite Ethan Hawke) don't get along but they make pains to tolerate each other for their children's sake. Separated and seeking new partners, we get to witness first-hand the trials of marrying a partner with children.
While taking classes to get a degree, Mason's mother falls in love with her professor (Marco Perella) who she then marries. They both have two kids apiece: a boy and a girl. When the families merge, it starts off really nicely until Mason's step-father takes a liking to the bottle. At first I was not okay with the development because it seems to only connect to those who have gone through a similar situation; but somehow it manages to skate around alcoholism as the main point and just target a moment in life when there is a crisis.
Later we get a breakdown for Mason's mother as she contemplates whether or not her life was worth it. What has she accomplished? Financial worries, romance troubles, and the struggle for completion all feature strongly here.
As we pass the years from 2002-2013 approximately, Linklater reaffirms his masterful status by subtly introducing us to technology and crazes that have remained in our mind. We see Mason and Samantha as the sixth Harry Potter book comes out. We notice how they began to play on game consoles from the Gameboy to the Wii. Eventually they all have iPhones, but it feels like just a brief moment in time. Seeing our visual history painted like this gives us major nostalgia waves..."Boyhood" is full of these moments.
For its intricacies, for its performances, and for its heart—which is certainly quite optimistic—I can think of nothing but praise for Richard Linklater.
"Boyhood" is not a fantasy ride of a movie. It's honest and genuine and filled with both tears and laughter. It's not a movie you go to see the plot, you go to see it because it elevates you. It makes you feel that life is somehow meaningful and it makes you cherish those moments when everything seems to dissolve and you are left breathless and quiet, soaking it all in, not knowing what cosmic gift you might be witnessing.
It's impression is very strong and altogether comforting. "Boyhood" is imperfect; but so is life.

Score: ★★★★

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